Unseating an entrenched market leader is tough, even when one pours hundreds of millions of dollars into product development and marketing. That's what Microsoft has found with its aggressively marketed and technologically improved Bing search engine.
While Bing has made strides in growing its usage market share, making significant inroads in a market so broadly dominated by Google is a tall order.
"We have a long ways to go in terms of what we want to accomplish," said Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft's Online Audience Business, at a panel discussion in the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.
Sitting a few feet away was Nikesh Arora, Google's President of Global Sales Operations and Business Development, also a member of the panel, whose discussion was moderated by conference co-chair John Battelle.
"It's a hard thing. Habits die hard," Mehdi added, referring to the ingrained tendency among many people to first reach for Google whenever they do a search.
In September in the US, Google handled 66.1 percent of search queries, followed by Yahoo with 16.7 percent, according to ComScore. Coming in third place with 11.2 percent was Microsoft, whose search partnership with Yahoo is being rolled out globally to make Bing the back-end search engine for Yahoo sites.
Microsoft's marketing for Bing highlights its capabilities to help people complete tasks with information or tools right from the Bing user interface, he said.
In addition to offline and online marketing campaigns, Microsoft relies heavily on usage data to monitor, tweak and sharpen Bing and its other online products, he said.
In the Microsoft Online Services division, "data is the lifeblood of what we're about," he said.
Google's Arora talked about display advertising, a market that despite being older than search advertising, hasn't traditionally offered the convenience it should to marketers.
"It stagnated in terms of technology and of meeting the needs of marketers," Arora said.
Google, traditionally not known as a strong display ad provider, has been beefing up its tools and technology to simplify the process of planning display campaigns and buying ad space across tens of thousands of different sites, he said.
Fellow panellist John Hayes , American Express chief marketing officer, said his company welcomes any help it can get in managing display ad campaigns. "We're looking for simplicity in an area that has gotten very complex," Hayes said.